Building a Nuanced and Authentic Understanding of the Essay

First-year students face a tremendous challenge and learning curve related to the essay.

High school has too often left students with an inauthentic and narrow view of the essay as a template; mechanical and scripted—the introduction, the thesis sentence, the body paragraphs, and the conclusion.

College writing and ultimately academic/scholarly writing as well as essay writing beyond the walls of academia are all far more nuanced and complex than the template essay, which is practiced almost nowhere by writers and which almost never serves as a transition or foundation for authentic writing.

James Baldwin offers a powerful model for essay writing since he was primarily a literary writer, a writer of fiction, who also wrote compelling and highly crafted essays and non-fiction—often blurring modes and genres as he worked in the field of journalism.

Essays often share some aspects of mode (narration, description, exposition, argument), citation and use of sources and research, and the boundaries of conventions (boundaries writers choose to conform to or break through).

First-year and developing writers can benefit from exploring a wide range of essays—from public work to online writing to disciplinary writing—in order to gain a more nuanced and authentic understanding of the many forms and purposes of essays.

Below are three models of essays: an online examination of superhero comics, the submitted manuscript for a scholarly version of that blog post, and then the proof of the scholarly essay before printing in an edited volume by an academic publisher (Routledge).

Key are considering the disciplinary fields involved: American Studies, pop culture, critical race theory. As well, examine forms of citation by the type of essay—from hyperlinks online to APA format for submission to publication formatting and style sheets.

The three models are as follows:

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